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Engaging the Bible in Mission Theology: Scholarship, David Bosch (1)

Engaging the Bible in Mission Theology Scholarship: Scholarship, David Bosch (1)

David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991).

After initial chapters on the mission theology of certain New Testament authors, Bosch surveys the history of missions.  He structures his historical survey by identifying six paradigms for mission in Church history.  He attempts to associate key Biblical texts with each of the paradigms for mission.  Bosch’s views on which Scriptures go with which paradigms of mission form the focus of the following study, with a very brief caution and comment of my own at the end.  In the next study, a deeper look at Bosch's paradigms for mission will be presented.  An outline format should help readers scan this study quickly.

1.      Apocalyptic Paradigm of primitive Christianity
a.       This is the period during which the New Testament documents were being written and when the New Testament canon was being defined.
b.      Salvation was largely future, although begun in this life with radical renewal (see the summary of salvation in the various periods, pp. 393ff).

2. Hellenistic Paradigm of the Patristic Period (p. 209).
a.       Ground of mission is love (Jn. 3.16).

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

b.      The Goal of mission is life (Jn. 3.16).  This is understood as participating in God's glory.  A key Orthodox doctrine is theosis (cf. 2 Cor. 3.18): union w/ God (not deification)--a continuing state of adoration, prayer, thanksgiving, worship, and intercession, and a meditation and contemplation of the triune God and God's infinite love.

2 Cor. 3.18: And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

c.       Salvation is cosmic (cf. 2 Cor. 5.19; Col. 1.20):

2 Cor. 5.19: that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

Col. 1.20: and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

d.      Salvation was seen as gradually moving toward divine status and took  the form of paideia, instruction.  Emphasis was placed on Christ's preexistence and incarnation.  (This is also true of Catholics and Anglicans, but now especially of Liberation Theology.)  But Bosch also notes the importance of Jesus' resurrection in Orthodoxy (p. 515).

3. Medieval Roman Catholic Paradigm

a.       Ground of mission is Lk. 14.23:

'Then the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.'

b.      Goal of missions is to create a Christian civilisation.
c.       Salvation was seen as the redemption of individual souls after this life.  It occurred through Christ's substitutionary death on the cross (this is also true of Protestantism).

4. Protestant (Reformation) Paradigm
a.       Ground of mission for Lutherans is Rom. 1.16f (p. 240).

b.      Grounds of mission for Anabaptists are Mt. 28.18-20; Mk. 16.15-18 [which is, of course, a later addition to Mark’s Gospel]; Ps. 24.1 (p. 246).

Matthew 28. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Mark 16. 15 And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. 16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover."

Psalm 24:1 The earth is the LORD's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it….

c.       Calvinists: the goal of mission is the glory of God, understood in terms of predestination and God's mercy.  In theology and practice, this entailed theocracy, 'to establish in the 'wilderness' a socio-political system in which God himself would be the real ruler' (259).  The 'Praying Towns', fourteen settlements including converted Indians, in Massachusetts were organised in accordance with Ex. 18 (259).

5. Modern Enlightenment Paradigm

a.       2 Cor. 5.14: constrained by Jesus' love was a major new motif,
     along with earlier concern to bring glory to God.  Saving souls and bettering society went together in 18th and 19th c.

2 Cor. 14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.

            b. In the 2nd half of the 1800's, a number of premillenial mission
            leaders and groups began to use Mt. 24.14 as the major mission text (316).

Mt. 24.14 And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.

c.      Paul's vision of the Macedonian call (Acts. 16.9) was significant when Western Christians viewed peoples of other races and religions as living in darkness and deep despair and as imploring Westerners to come to their aid' (340).

Acts 16.9  9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."

d.       The proponents of the Social Gospel favoured John 10.10:

'The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
e.       Matthew 28.18-20 was a key text for William Carey, and since him it has been prominent in Protestant circles (340).  Carey argued that the text applied to the present day Church (not the disciples alone).  By the end of the 19th century, this text superseded all others as the key mission text.

f.      Salvation was no longer seen as distinct from God's providential care (under which came the notions of caring for the needy), nor was it viewed as from outside human agency (pp. 394f).  Jesus' work was not understood in terms of a substitutionary death that propitiated God but as exemplary.  'Here not the person of Jesus was at the centre but the cause of Jesus; the ideal, not the One who embodied the ideal; the teaching (particularly the Sermon on the Mount), not the Teacher; the kingdom of God, but without the King (395).  At the Uppsala Assembly of the WCC (1968), salvation was defined exclusively in this-worldly terms: 'for (1) economic justice against exploitation; (2) for human dignity against oppression; (3) for solidarity against alienation; and (4) for hope against despair in personal life' (see Bosch, pp. 396f).  Salvation was seen with respect to Jesus' earthly life and ministry (p. 399).

6. Emerging Ecumenical Paradigm

a.       The local church is one of the new emphases in missions, with Acts 13.1-3 serving as a key text (p. 378):

'Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.'

b.      The WCC's Narobi Assembly (1975) produced its report as a prayer for the churches instead of a call to the world, and a key text was 1 Pt. 4.17 (p. 388):

For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

In this regard, the church was distinguished from (it 'witnessed to') the Kingdom of God (so the CWME of the WCC at Melbourne (1980)).  In the last half of the 20th century, there has been a decisive shift to seeing mission as God's mission, largely to K. Barth's credit and understood in terms of the Trinity (389).  This was decisive at the Willingen Conference of the IMC (1952).  Mission is God's work, through the Church, for the world.  This has been endorsed by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics.

c.       Salvation as taking place in the horizontal sphere alone comes under critique in this paradigm (at the Nariobi Assembly of the WCC (1975) and the 1974 Bishops' Synod and the Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) publication within Catholicism.  Now, salvation as holistic is the emphasis.  'Missionary literature, but also missionary practice, emphasize that we should find a way beyond every schizophrenic position and minister to people in their total need, that we should involve individual as well as society, soul and body, present and future in our ministry of salvation' (399).  This view includes the vertical (salvation from God; eschatological salvation) and the horizontal.

My Conclusion: Beyond Bosch

I must admit that I find identifying paradigms with particular Scripture passages both intriguing and reductionistic.  (I do, in fact, think that the idea of ‘paradigms’ in history is fraught with methodological problems.)  So, I conclude with a caution about Bosch’s approach.  For me, his arguments are best used by us if, instead of identifying mission movements with singular or particular Scripture passages, we rather ask the questions, ‘Are particular Scriptural passages being used more than others in this or that mission movement?’ and ‘What happens when certain Scriptural passages are used and others not used, or de-emphasised, in our mission theology?’

One might also note that Bosch really needed to give more attention to Pentecostalism when discussing the contemporary missionary situation.  This is, after all, where the major growth is in the Church’s mission.  If we are to try to identify primary texts with Pentecostal missionary efforts, they would certainly include Mt. 28.18-20; Acts 1.8; and Acts 2.17-21 (quoting Joel 2.28-32a]:

Matthew 28:18-20   18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Acts 1:8  ut you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Acts 2:17-21 [quoting Joel 2.28-32a]   17 'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.  19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.  20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day.  21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'